Moto Guzzi Rally

A Pilgrimage for the Guzzi Faithful

By Melissa Holbrook Pierson, Photography by Joe Sokohl

As we pull into the rally grounds at Glen Maury Park, I see the tents massed along the treeline, the people moving back and forth between their sites and the bathrooms, the pavilion like Valhalla on the hill ahead, bikes passing us on the drive as they headed for ice or for a ride on the fabled roads of Virginia. Who might I meet again after years that would seem as moments? It was only later, after I had unpacked and unfurled the tent, that I even noticed the park was dominated by Paxton House, an imposing antebellum mansion. This gathering—from all corners of a united republic, of fans of a European motorcycle few have heard of—would be overseen by the ghost of a Confederate general.

In his honor, perhaps, or maybe just because they’re tasty, that night we enjoyed mint juleps by the light of tentside tiki torches. The next day we seek refuge from the excoriating heat (102 and counting) in a pool below Panther Falls, carefully negotiating three miles of steep, downhill gravel road. And that night, all hell broke loose.

After dinner someone walks over, smartphone in hand. “Folks, there’s a big storm headed our way—about 15 minutes.” The radar showed a dense green mass, mixed with angry yellow and orange, stretching from southern Ohio to Tennessee and moving east. Within 10 minutes, rallygoers had assisted everyone in battening down tents and bringing bikes under the pavilion’s roof. Some thoughtful person had left a box of Cheez-It crackers on a table, which we devoured while watching lightning shear the night sky and trees bend under the force of brutal winds. The storm was one of the most destructive in American history, but we were strangely calm. Everything was going to be all right or would be made so later. Guzzi people are good at fixing things. They have to be.

A friend familiar with local roads saw me on my way the next day by leading a tour through the storm’s full aftermath: great trees snapped in half, wires festooning pavement. He found what was certainly the state’s only craft brewery with enough generator to power both air-conditioner and pizza oven. Afterward I said goodbye to my friends. I was headed north, home, alone.

But a motorcyclist knows this is not how it will always be: alone. Next year we will be rally-bound again. There will be new expectation. New affiliations. And a new date on the calendar on which to fix an anticipatory pin, every year. When we come together, and when we arrive.

By Melissa Holbrook Pierson
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